Crisis Can't Curtail New Year's Cheer

MTSnegurochka holding a white rat, this year's symbol on the Chinese calendar, at the New Year's forum last week.
Although mounting layoffs and stock market losses have taken their toll on morale as of late, an army of Ded Morozes and their female sidekicks, Snegurochkas, say they're ready to spread holiday cheer come New Year's.

Representatives of the Russian and international party industry congregated at the All-Russia Exposition Center this weekend for the Ded Moroz-2008 forum, a showcase of goods and services for the country's favorite holiday.

"Russians always come together in hard times and put everything they have out on the table for the guests," said Sergei Vityutin, the forum's director. "Although companies are spending less on New Year's this year, people will still celebrate in full swing at home."

The forum has been held annually since 2001 for industry suppliers and costumed entertainers who work during the holiday season. Participation was down about 20 percent this year, mostly because foreign companies decided not to come, Vityutin said.

"The crisis may be part of it, but it's also because Russian companies have been increasing their share of the market," he said. In recent years, the industry has been returning to its Russian roots and away from the Americanized version of the holiday.

A brass band of bearded, robed Ded Morozes were providing the soundtrack to the event, which included children's games and flying confetti. The Snegurochka costumes, alternatively, appeared to be less for the kids: One wore red fishnet stockings and stilettos and cooed to a white rat, the symbol of the current year according to Chinese mythology.

Party suppliers were offering everything from costumes and fireworks to ice sculptures and artificial trees. One company, called Torg-House, was selling a 6-meter-high, inflatable Ded Moroz for 60,000 rubles ($2,200) -- a significant premium to standard rates for a live visit from one of the city's many Ded Moroz agencies.

Among the more eye-grabbing products was a chocolate fondue fountain, which was on display with fruit for guests to sample. A three-hour rental of the multitiered tower -- fueled with 10 kilograms of milk chocolate -- was available for 13,000 rubles ($475).

"The party will be bigger than ever this year," said a costumed Ded Moroz, who introduced himself as Alexander from Mitino, a suburb northwest of Moscow. Alexander, a former colonel in the Soviet army, said he became a Ded Moroz because he wanted to stay active during his retirement.

"Now my son is a Ded Moroz, my son-in-law is also a Ded Moroz, and their wives are Snegurochkas," he said. "We never spend New Year's together."